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Labor of Love program celebrates vegetable field workers

A special recognition of hard-working field workers called the Labor of Love program is thanking those who serve the agricultural industry in vegetable fields from Yuma, Ariz. to California’s Salinas Valley.

A special recognition of hard-working field workers called the Labor of Love program is thanking those who serve the agricultural industry in vegetable fields from Yuma, Ariz. to California’s Salinas Valley.

Now into the busy winter produce season where upwards of 40,000 laborers may be working fields to help make Yuma “the Winter Leafy Greens Capitol of America,” the efforts of these workers are being recognized and rewarded by surprise breakfasts in the field and other random acts of kindness.

The non-profit Yuma Fresh Vegetable Association (YFVA) notes that from sun up until after sun set field workers have been there for growers, shippers, communities that welcome them each year, and for anyone who wants to eat nutritious leafy greens year round.

After all, without field workers, where would the industry be?, asks the YFVA. Indeed, if you like to wax philosophical, try Sophocles, the Greek dramatist and playwright who penned the appropriate lines, “Without labor, nothing prospers.”

“Harvesting is a difficult profession and requires a commitment and a unique set of skills,” says YFVA President Steve Alameda who grows vegetables in Arizona and California.

“When we find the right workers, we want to make sure we take care of them, respect them, and celebrate their invaluable contributions to the industry. The (Labor of Love) program showcases our workforce and thanks them for their hard work.”

Launched in Yuma last fall, the program followed farm workers to Salinas fields this past summer, and then returned to Yuma this October to coincide with the return of thousands of pickers-harvesters returning to the fields.

The date was carefully chosen, Alameda says.

“We’ve surprised hundreds of workers in Yuma fields with burritos and tacos so we felt it fitting to welcome the program back to Yuma on National Taco Day.”

The Labor of Love idea came out of a YFVA board meeting where Alameda remembers “a bunch of farmers trying to figure out a way to approach workers to show how much they are appreciated. This program is decidedly a win-win-win all the way around. What we’re doing for them isn’t a big deal, it’s just a thank you, but they are appreciative.”

He says the YFVA wants people across the country to recognize the importance of these workers.

So far, the YFVA has provided more than a thousand gift cards and lunches to workers. Thanks to sponsors last year, turkeys and hams were also handed out. 

The company Tanimura & Antle, with headquarters in Yuma and Salinas, was an early supporter of the program.

“We were already bringing pizzas and tacos to field crews working long days at high demand time so this was a natural fit for us,” says Caitlin Angle, T&A’s sales and marketing director.

With a labor force of more than 2,000, Angle says, “Our people are the ones that make what we do happen - bringing premium products to consumers daily and they do it without skipping a beat. We do a lot of special things for our harvest crews - the boots on the ground - to let them know how much they are valued.”

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Area merchants have also climbed aboard this bandwagon, including food from Fruit Grower’s Supply, Mostly Muffins, contributions from Dole and Shamrock Foods, and the Gutierrez Family restaurants (Chile Pepper and Mr. G’s) where Mary Lou Huff says, “Back in the 1950s, my father used to make homemade corn tortillas and deliver them to farm workers in the field at 4 a.m.”

Huff explains, “We have great respect for the value these workers bring to our community and the agriculture industry. My parents created a legacy of giving and we’re proud to continue it today; humbled to be a part of a program that celebrates workers and shines a light on their stories.”

Labor of Love field visits are captured via video and posted on a Facebook page including workers’ stories. To date, the Facebook outreach has brought these messages to more than one million people who have an interest in learning about the industry and its workers.

Alameda says, “Part of our mission includes outreach to the rest of the country and the many Facebook hits show we’re accomplishing that goal.

The YFVA leader adds, “It’s a multi-edged sword to both show our appreciation to the workers who accomplish the job and to let the rest of the country know how hard they work to make things happen.”

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